Art on the New Antlers Bridge Project: 150 Feet in the Air

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For a limited time, if you drive north on Interstate 5 from Redding, there is a rare opportunity to enjoy magnificent art – 150-feet in the air – from your vehicle during the Antlers Bridge replacement project. There, you’ll see two gigantic colorful panels that depict realistic-looking bass fish, with mouths open to catch bait fish, high above the dancing waves.

Two more panels of the same image will be installed in the coming months, as the Antlers Bridge construction project nears completion. Antlers Bridge is located in Shasta County, on I-5 above the Sacramento River arm of Shasta Lake near the community of Lakehead.

Once the project is complete, the artistic fish scenes will only be visible by air or water.

The opportunity for this huge art project came as the old Antlers Bridge was near the end of its life, and needed replacement, as well as realignment of a 0.4 mile southern section of highway to mitigate a high accident rate.

The $125 million Caltrans and Federal Highway Administration bridge project began in 2009, and is estimated to be completed in 2016. But in addition to being functional, the bridge project also included an artistic element.

Enter Artist Jerry Stuart of Redding, hired to bring realism to the Antlers Bridge fish scene.

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Redding artist and general painting contractor Jerry Stuart painted a gigantic scene of fish on the new Antlers Bridge, 150-feet above Shasta Lake.

A native New Yorker, Stuart grew up in Wells, New York, where he graduated high school, attended college in Johnstown, New York, and majored in Fine Art.

One of Stuart ‘s earliest ventures in mural painting was during his service in the Army, in Charlie Co. 20th Engineer Battalion, where he was asked to paint scenes on day-room walls. Stuart was free to paint anything he chose, as long as there was, “some sort of Army theme: G.I. Joe with a heavy metal twist.”

Stuart discovered that he enjoyed large-scale painting, primarily for two reasons. No one bothered him while he worked, and his art was met with approval and appreciation.

“Everyone loved what I did,” Stuart said.

Stuart also realized that when making art, he felt that his life had a greater sense of purpose, which is reflected in his artist’s vision statement: “To create a better living and playing environment through my art. At the end of the day, did I create a better place for others?”

Stuart laughed and added that sometimes, creating a better place for others might be as simple as taking out the trash, or cleaning up a job site.

Stuart is proud that his favorite hero is, as he quips, a “she-ro” – Helen Keller, someone he likes to quote for such wisdom as, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”

Stuart agrees, with his own adaptation: “The worst thing you can ever do is not use the talent that God gave you.”

Fast forward decades beyond the Army to today, where Stuart uses his many talents. He still paints murals, but he is also a general painting contractor who specializes in faux finishes in high-end homes, businesses, churches and theaters.

No doubt Stuart’s lifetime of artwork and painting led to the call from another licensed painting contractor, Jim Currie of Redding. Currie had received the contract for color staining and sealing the massive span in a faux rock effect on either end of the new Antlers Bridge, as well as four fish-scene panels.

Originally, artist Javier Chavez and Structures Architects of Sacramento designed the fish scene, and created the forms for the concrete pour.

Next, Currie got the contract, the equipment and materials to implement the work, yet he needed an artist to create a more realistic effect. Currie asked around at local paint stores, where he was advised that Jerry Stuart, with his specialty in faux finishes and murals, was the man for the job.

Stuart was charged with researching bass and bait fish to come up with the most authentic colors. Next, he had to map out the staining, applied with a sprayer and an assortment of brushes for the panels that measured approximately 36-by-40 feet. But large scale job doesn’t necessarily mean large tools.

“The smallest brush is 1 inch, for tiny detail of fish eyes that sparkle and shine, and speckled scales and highlights,” Stuart said.

Attention to detail is crucial to Stuart, despite how far away the scene is from view. In his work, he utilizes a technique gleaned from one of his favorite artists from the 1600s, Caravaggio, famed for his painting, “David and Goliath”.

Caravaggio’s innovation was “radical naturalism” in painting with an effect known as “chiaroscuro” – the shift from light to dark, with little intermediate value.

“This method of painting has meaning that goes right to the book of Genesis, where ‘out of darkness comes light,’ ” Stuart said. 12000156_975022129206155_708773521_n

Prior to color-staining the pillared faux rocks and fish scene, Jerry and Jim went through rigorous Caltrans safety training. The job required that both men obtain a license in operating the JLG rig hydraulic lift.

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Stuart describes the experience of creating art on the Antlers Bridge as, “Two men in a basket, 150 feet in the air.”

Stuart recalled how early on in the process, Currie asked about formulas for mixing colors, to which Stuart replied, “I’m an artist, I just mix as I go. I don’t do formulas.”

Now, Stuart is grateful that Currie insisted that Stuart chronicle everything from measurements to custom stain recipes created along the way to depict rocks, fish and water, each consisting of multiple colors. For example, the rocks are made up of eight separate colors.

This documentation will be crucial when creating future panels, as well as eventual touch-ups, though Stuart noted that the durable sealing he applied over the stain will protect the surface for many years.

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One of the first challenges of this project came on the first week on the project, when Stuart and Currie adapted to operating the hydraulic lift so high in the air. They began with a mock-up/sampler to familiarize themselves with material blending and mixing consistency.

The faux rocks provided opportunity to practice application and shading for realistic effect, before moving on to the fine “high” art of painting the fish and water. The eight colors were painstakingly applied to the stamped concrete to achieve the appearance of real stones. It took two months for the men to complete just the faux stones.

To protect the brand-new bridge from getting stain overspray, it took Jerry and Jim 12 hours to block off each panel of fish and waves with paper and painters tape.

“God blessed us with calm weather during the time we were working,” Stuart said.

Even so, he said there was a fair amount of concern each day that after 12 hours of taping, that they would return the next morning to find the paper and tape blown off from windy nights. They put their trust in 3M painters tape, and found that the orange tape was better than the blue at staying put.

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A typical day of creating art on the Antlers Bridge started at 7:30 a.m. in an attempt to beat Redding’s July and August heat.

Wearing hard hats and harnessed to the basket, the two men rode the hydraulic lift to their job site high in the air. There, they’d work steadily in four-hour shifts before lowering to the ground to step way, way, way back to assess and critique their progress.

For reference as he worked, Stuart kept photos of bass and trout in his vest pocket, but said that he had “sketched it out” in his head, complete with a plan for color, highlights and shading. Twelve separate color stains were used for the fish and water, taking on average, 50 to 60 hours for each panel. The smaller fish hovering over the bass on the panels are called the “bait fish” and were painted to resemble trout.

Currently, until the Antler Bridge construction is finished, the public can still view this art while crossing on the older section of the Antler Bridge.

Public reactions have been mixed, and Stuart admits feeling surprised at some of the negative comments he’s read on Facebook about the art project.

Some people complained about the cost for art on a bridge, while others complained about the eventual visual inaccessibility to see the art scenes, unless viewed from the river below, or from the air.

Stuart’s response is that he likes that viewing the panels requires getting in a boat, canoe, kayak or tube on the river, as it helps promote outdoor resources. He likens it to viewing the ancient Native American Petroglyphs while traveling on the Colorado River.

“You can’t get in a car to see those petroglyphs,” Stuart said. “The only way is to get on the water, just like with this bridge.”

As an artist, Stuart takes exception to those who belittle the value and long-range importance of quality art.

“I’m sure, when the great pyramids were being built, or when Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, that there were people complaining about how the money could have been better spent,” he said.

The way Stuart sees it, although the Antlers Bridge may not rival the great pyramids, or the Sistine Chapel, the realistically colorful renderings of fish, water and rocks will pay proud homage to the beauty and natural resources of the north state for generations to come, thanks to two men in a basket, creating art 150 feet in the air.

 

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com
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17 Responses

  1. Karen McGrath says:

    A wonderful article, Shelly! A fascinating process that you described so well. Karen

  2. AJ says:

    #1.Public art is an important and an invaluable element of any culture. I’m impressed that someone in the hierarchy of CalTrans thought so too.

    #2. I’m REALLY impressed with the serendipitous finding of the artist.

    #3. Wonderful, infomative, interesting article, Shelly. THANK YOU!

  3. Shelly Shively says:

    Thanks, Karen!   I’m so glad I got to satisfy my immense curiosity of this massive project.  Jerry was fascinating to talk with, concerning the myriad of details in the process.  I can’t imagine being so high off the ground, in a basket, in the intense Redding heat, & working so closely to something so huge.  To think, that this art will remain long after we’re all gone, & people may muse, “I wonder how that was done?”

    We know. : )

  4. Shelly Shively says:

    Thank- you, Glad  you enjoyed it, A.J.!  No surprise, given your love & support of the arts.

  5. Peggy Elwood says:

    Terrific interesting article Shelly!! Of course I agree..community art is very important and worth the investment.

  6. K. Beck says:

    Any idea when this  “limited time” ends? I can’t get there until the end of the month and would really like to see it.

    Is there a turn out, or do we have to look at is as we drive by?

    Phoenix has wonderful art on many of their freeway over passes. Makes time spent on the freeway much more pleasurable.

    Thanks for telling us about this!

    • name says:

      Beings that the project is already way behind schedule, you will probably be able to view it for quite some time.  After the new bridge is in use, we just need them to fill the lake, so that we may view it from the water and not a dry lake bed…

  7. Shelly Shively says:

    As an artist, it’s amazing, isn’t it , Peggy?  I hope you’ve had a chance to see the Antlers Bridge scene when you drive north.  I’m looking forward to seeing the next 2 panels being painted.  What a an artistic treasure!

  8. K. Beck says:

    As a P. S.

    Kudos to CalTrans for their foresight to fund this project.

  9. KarenC says:

    How beautiful…..too bad one cannot see it from the hiway, but I certainly understand the reason why.  Will have to go up and see it while we can.  Great story Shelly, I have a fear of being high up on bridges and looking down.  I could feel that creepy feeling as I was reading the story.

    How fortunate we are to have the beautiful bridges with artwork in our area.

  10. Shelly Shively says:

    Yes, K. Beck, I wholeheartedly agree that Caltrans deserves a standing O for including art in their project.  Any that had anything to do with implementing the idea, should be applauded. It makes me proud, as an artist, & art gallery curator.

  11. John Stewart says:

    Great article, Shelly.  What a project! I’ve enjoyed knowing and painting with Jerry at O Street Gallery.  He is very humble and has a fantastic sense of humor.  Thanks for sharing this.

  12. kirsten says:

    Shelly- what a great article…………….. I MUST see them fishes………………. but from what side? Going North or South?  Or both??

  13. Shelly Shively says:

    Kirsten, better vantage, going north.

  14. Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Excellent article Shelly! I was so amazed when I saw this work of art when my husband were returning home from Dunsmuir.  I just told him about your article and showed him the pictures you included in the article.  He said “Why didn’t you point that  out to me?”  I said “Because we were on a freeway on a bridge in traffic is why.”  I love that work of art!  I would buy a print of a good photograph of those fish….. Jerry Stuart is an amazing artist.

  15. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    “my husband and I”

  16. Chuck Prudhomme Chuck Prudhomme says:

    Wonderful article about a unique piece of public art by a wonderful local artist!